November 15, 2004
SPRINGFIELD (Nov. 15)—The UTU Illinois Legislative Board joined with the Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MHSRA) and three regional business groups today to announce that 60 key legislators have asked Gov. Rod Blagojevich for $8 million to support two additional Amtrak round trips between Chicago and St. Louis.
The group also met with Budget Director John Filan to discuss the need for additional state-wide service and to develop strategies for raising the necessary funding. State government must rely on its own taxpayers to support passenger trains because state rail projects, unlike highways and airports, do not receive federal matching funds.
The press conference and the meeting were organized by MHSRA with the help of the UTU, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Springfield Convention and Tourism Bureau.
“I think it went well,” said Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo. “Our union’s good relationships in the General Assembly were instrumental in persuading more than 60 to senators and representatives to sign a joint letter to the governor calling for the state to fund additional Chicago-St. Louis service. We also seem to be making progress with the Office of Management and Budget.”
In their letter, the legislators re-iterated in condensed form the concerns expressed earlier by more than 230 of the state’s mayors and municipal officials in their own letter to the governor: Downstate cities are missing out on economic growth because lack of transportation makes them unattractive to potential tourism and companies seeking a business location.
“Linking communities with fast, frequent and dependable trains will strengthen our economy by making Illinois a more attractive place to live and do business,” the legislators wrote.
Like the mayors, the General Assembly members told the governor that the state’s passenger-train buildup should begin in the 284-mile Chicago-St. Louis corridor because it already is on the way to being a high-performance railroad.
“Over $200 million has been invested in the…corridor,” the legislators wrote. “It is poised to become a showcase for the nation. Completing this corridor is the first step in improving passenger rail service for the entire state.”
The best way to continue to advance the corridor’s progress, the legislators wrote, would be to fund two more daily Chicago-St. Louis round trips. Added to the three existing frequencies, that which would give travelers a slate of five frequencies each day in each direction. Completing the current infrastructure improvements to allow passenger-train speeds of 110 mph, and funding the CREATE program to streamline railroad infrastructure in Chicago, also are vital steps, the legislators said.
“The UTU stands behind this simple program, and we’re sharing all of our information and all of our expertise with our fellow advocates to make sure the governor and the remaining members of the legislature get the message,” Szabo said.
“That’s why the meeting with Mr. Filan was so critical,” he said. “We have to show the people who design the state budget that investing money in passenger trains is not a net expense to the state but a net profit—because the train service lures new businesses and generates tourism that in turn generate far more tax revenue for the state.”
Szabo said the meeting with Filan was “productive.”
“We know that the state does not have a lot of revenue at the moment,” he said. “The General Assembly just succeeded in passing a balanced budget after months of struggle with a deficit of nearly $4 billion. But Director Filan seemed responsive to our case for more passenger trains and how they can help grow the state’s economy.
“Most important of all, he understands that when you add a new frequency, it does not cannibalize riders from the existing trains,” Szabo said. “The ridership growth explodes exponentially. That reduces the state’s cost per passenger—and that’s something a budget director can appreciate.”